Marketing & Biz

Happy Family Organics Goes Regenerative Supporting Farms In The US and Abroad

Katie Clark, Director of Sustainability, at Happy Family Organics argues that regenerative agriculture is not just a fad, but actually working — and she has stories from their sourcing partners (aka regenerative farms) to prove it.

In 2020, the company worked with their apple and pear grower, Montes de Molina, based in Chile, who had just taken possession of a new 116-acre field. The entire field was transitioned to regenerative agriculture. 

“It was previously used for intensive animal grazing and had an average of 51% plant cover due to overgrazing,” Clark explains. But with the support of Happy Family’s Regenerative Fund, Montes de Molina undertook a cover cropping project in July 2020 to address the lack of cover on their new field and to see whether white lupines could be used in between rows of berries as a cover crop. They seeded oats into the entire 116-acre field and white lupine into an 11-acre section of a raspberry field to test the effectiveness of these cover crops. 

 Why?

 “These cover crops build soil organic carbon, reduce the carbon footprint, feed soil microbes, and increase biological activity at Montes de Molina. Moreover, these projects increase the amount of organic matter that is added to the soil on the farm. As a result of implementing these new regenerative practices on this small amount of land, Montes de Molina reduced the carbon emissions of their farm by 25 tonnes of CO2e (CO2 equivalent),” she argues, “demonstrating the potential impact that these projects can have at scale.”  

Happy Family, which sits within a global multinational, Danone, has utilized the resources offered by its parent company, Clark explains, to support the transition to regenerative farming across its supply chain. This past October, they launched a three-year $1.5 million project to help 180 banana growers in Ecuador adapt climate smart and regenerative practices. By 2024, Happy Family hopes to apply these practices to about one-third of the bananas they source. “We will only be able to achieve this impact through access to the Danone Ecosystem Fund,” she notes, which gives them not just funding, but also help with technical know-how to expand. 

One farm that’s already received regenerative organic certification from the ROA is Breathe Deep, located in New York, and provides Happy Family with oats for its Farmed for Our Future line of products.

In addition to investing heavily in crop rotation and growing a variety of plants, hallmarks of regenerative agriculture, Breathe Deep also is home to 434 wild-growing plant species, 83 bird species (including two bald eagles), 17 butterfly species, and 23 varieties of dragonflies, says farm manager and co-founder Chris Chasen. 

“Given the natural abundance of biodiversity on our farm, sometimes the most useful thing we can do is to step back and let nature take its course — to leave field and riparian buffers, to preserve stands of milkweed for monarchs, and, of course, to keep chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers out of these rich habitats. A farm is not a collection of fields; it’s an ecosystem, and we try to manage our land in a way that reflects that truth,” he says.

All of the grain grown on the farm (oats, barley, wheat, corn, rye, soy, etc.) is certified by the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a California-based nonprofit. Happy Family was the first customer that approached them specifically looking for ROC grains, Chasen explains, “and, critically, wanted to pay us a price that reflected the work we’re doing on the land.” 

They’re among a growing group of local food and farm entrepreneurs who are keen to see this shift to regenerative and a local ecosystem that enables it to grow, he adds: 

“Stone House Grains in Livingston, NY, bought our crops at a premium as we went through our three-year organic transition. Valley Malt in Hadley, MA has given us a consistent outlet for small grains so we can incorporate more diversity into our rotation. And now Happy Family is helping us solidify the benefits of regenerative certification.” 

Started in 2015, Breathe Deep was created with “regeneration in mind,” Chasen argues. “It was actually a shuttered conventional dairy slated for residential development.” 

But with the help of local groups, including the Columbia Land Conservancy, Scenic Hudson, Equity Trust, and the Farm at Miller’s Crossing, Chasen and his family were able to place a conservation easement on their home farm (370 acres). “This means it will be conserved as working farmland in perpetuity. After we bought the farm, we went about converting our acreage and more than 200 neighboring acres to organic and then regenerative organic.” 

Chasen is not new to these concepts. Albeit the buzzwords for regenerative agriculture are more recent, he explains that he has been practicing organic and regenerative agriculture for nearly 25 years with his wife and business partner Katie Smith.  

“We’re constantly pushing ourselves to experiment with new practices that match our regenerative guideposts,” he says. “Should we try biodynamic farming? Should we graze livestock to improve soil fertility? Should we under-sow clover to fix nitrogen and cover the ground? Our collective commitment to balancing the ecological, economic, and social elements of regeneration keeps us experimenting and is what led us to the ROC.” 

It’s not been smooth sailing, he admits, with having to weigh costs and values being a constant struggle.

“In an ideal world, we would cover crop each and every field after harvest. However, tilling and seeding cover crops post-harvest is time-sensitive and expensive. We’re working on systems to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Some of those systems involve new equipment, and some of them involve tweaking our crop rotation. Of course, our rotation is also guided by our markets, so getting all of these variables to line up is a constant challenge. We’re still working on this question of how to cover crop 100% of our fields and are trying out new cover crops and under-sowing clover.”

And they’re encouraging neighboring farmers to have these thoughts and discussions as well.

“There is so much demand for good local food in the Northeast, and there always will be. The simple truth is we need local farms to have local food. And we think that regenerative organic agriculture gives farmers the best chance to stick around for the long term — to be ecologically, financially, and socially resilient.” 

For Happy Family, supporting farmers such as Chasen is part of the company’s broader vision of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. While the science on regenerative agriculture is still emerging — to conclusively say that this style of farming sequesters carbon — it certainly does encourage a more holistic type of farming that has its benefits: more localized production, fewer external inputs that have to be trucked in and purchased, and richer soils that are resilient for more seasons to come.


Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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